"Mr. Watson, come here!" These words, spoken by Bell to his assistant, are among the most celebrated in scientific lore because, as the story goes, they signaled the birth of the telephone, a device that would forever change the world. But the words are also a clue to a dark and convoluted tale, as Shulman discovered while researching Bell's invention at MIT. U.S. Patent #174465 is the most valuable ever issued; unfortunately, it was likely issued to the wrong man. Documents only recently made public provide irrefutable evidence that corruption and chicanery secured the honor for Bell rather than for electrician Elisha Gray, who filed competing patent paperwork the very same day. That Gray and Bell had rival claims is nothing new. What Shulman found, however, is the smoking gun -- or rather a gallery of many small smoking guns -- proving that Gray, not Bell, developed the components needed to transmit the voice, and that Bell stole the key information, passing it off as his own.
By all accounts, Bell was an honest man who preferred to work with the deaf rather than chase the fabulous wealth new inventions could bring. Why then, would he dishonor himself by not only pirating the work of another inventor but participating in a long, demoralizing campaign to keep the secret? The key to unlocking the mystery lies in his call to Watson on that fateful day. (Spring 2008 Selection)